One Boy’s Day Coming to the Stage

One Boy’s Day: A Specimen Record of Behavior is coming to the stage. The 1951 book, written by psychologist Roger Barker and Herbert Wright, details the life a young boy in Oskaloosa, Kansas. (Barker’s work has also been the subject of a recent biography, The Outsider: The Life and Times of Roger Barker, by Ariel Sabar.) The book

… is the focus of Mikel Rouse’s most ambitious performance to date, a 13-hour durational music, media and participatory installation that will premiere at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Spring 2020.

On April 26, 1949, eight observers, led by social scientists Roger Barker and Herbert Wright from the Midwest Psychological Field Station, painstakingly documented every word and movement of Raymond Birch, a seven-year-old boy from rural Kansas. Heralded as a sociological milestone, their 435-page report aimed to describe “how children actually behave in real-life situations” and offer insight into what makes an “ideal” American community. Divided into seven parts and structured as scenes from a play, the study is a meticulously timed minute-by-minute transcription of Raymond’s every activity from getting up and eating breakfast to playing with his friends, and from studying English and participating in music class to eating dinner and going to bed.

Over the next two years, director and composer Mikel Rouse together with video and set designers Jim Findlay and Jeff Sugg, lighting designer Hideaki Tsutsui, sound designer Christopher Ericson, music arranger Matthew Gandolfo and producer FuturePerfect Productions will transform Barker and Wright’s text into a multi-media playground and music concert precisely following the day-long observations made by Barker and his associates. Students and teachers from each venue’s local community will be invited onstage to occupy mimetic models of the boy’s home, school, playground and town courthouse.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young recently completed a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey in the UK. She earned her doctorate in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in 2014.